By Jake Ulick
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
The Platinum Ballroom on the 12th floor of the Belvedere Hotel in the historic Mount Vernon neighborhood was filled to capacity Tuesday night as city residents gathered to hear mayoral candidates pitch their visions for Baltimore.
The 24 candidates were each given seven minutes to speak with a suggestion from the moderator that they split their time so that they could take questions following a brief statement.
Former Mayor Sheila Dixon urged voters to trust her as the city’s top administrator even though she was forced to resign in February 2010 following her conviction for perjury and embezzlement in December 2009.
“I know it’s going to take trust from the community, but I know what it takes to run the city government,” Dixon said. “I’ve paid the price. I’ve moved forward in my life and with my family and others who I’ve disappointed. I also know that my passion and love for this city is going to move this city in the right direction.”
Dixon said that if she is elected mayor, she would order performance audits for all city agencies and institute a zero-based budget.
“The biggest thing and the most important thing is that we have to have accountability in city government,” Dixon said.
City Councilman Nick J. Mosby spoke of his humble beginnings growing up in a three-bedroom house with six women in Northeast Baltimore.
He said he had to be “the man of the house from day one,” adding that he was the first in his family to attend college. He said the upcoming election is a chance for the city to either continue down its current path or to follow him towards a better future.
“We’re gonna go after the new ideas,” Mosby said. “We’re gonna go after a fresh perspective. We’re gonna go after true change. And if that’s the solution, then it’s me.”
DeRay Mckesson, a prominent activist in the Black Lives Matter movement and a former teacher and school district administrator, made his first appearance among the other candidates following his last-minute filing for the election.
“I’m running for the same reason I decided to teach, for the same reason I initially went to St. Louis and Ferguson,” Mckesson said, referring to the protests that erupted in Missouri in August 2014 after a Ferguson police officer fatally shot an unarmed black man. “It was because I saw something unacceptable and I said, ‘I gotta do something about it.’ This isn’t yet the Baltimore we deserve, but it can be.”
Gersham Cupid, a 10-year member of the Baltimore City Police Department, said he turned down a $40,000 starting salary at another organization because he wanted to serve the city. He cited the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray as a motivation for his candidacy.
“April of 2015 was a disgrace – not only for the city but for our nation, as we were seen internationally as a city on fire,” Cupid said. “Unfortunately, I was one of those officers who received bricks, trash cans, and other things thrown at them. It hurt because every day I put my life on the line to serve each and every one of you. And I did it quietly for 10 years.”
Cupid’s plans for the city include revitalizing communities with vacant houses and storefronts with the help of entrepreneurs and investors, implementing a system for the community to provide feedback on police conduct, and making job training more widely available to vulnerable communities.
Elizabeth Embry, the chief of the criminal division for the state attorney general, cited her hard-on-crime record.
She also touted her Baltimore roots and current residence in the Better Waverly neighborhood. She said her plans included continuing to reduce crime and protecting the historic character of the city.
Patrick Gutierrez, a former vice president of operations with Bank of America, said the city deserves better following the low standards that previous mayors have set.
“As somebody who has been a proven change agent his entire career and who was trained specifically to go in and turn around poor performing operations and been successful doing it … I will raise that standard,” Gutierrez said.
State Sen. Catherine Pugh, a former city councilwoman and delegate to the Maryland General Assembly, argued that Baltimore City needed to take its cues from other jurisdictions when it comes to allocating more resources to schools.
“We can do more for this city by getting everybody to work together,” she said. “When we talk about crime and the issues facing our city, we’ve got to talk about community policing. I’m talking about year-round opportunities for our young people to work. We’ve got to get in front of the problem and not behind it.”
Other Democratic candidates who spoke at the forum included businessman David Warnock, Wilton Wilson, a nurse and graduate of Johns Hopkins University, and Calvin Young, an engineer and graduate of Harvard Business School.
The Democratic candidates were followed by four Republicans, three members of the Green Party and five candidates with no affiliation. The candidates are seeking to replace outgoing Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who decided not to seek re-election after the uprisings in Baltimore last spring.
The event was hosted by the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association and Charles Street Development Corporation. The primary election is April 26.